You see the pilot helping to clean the plane; you see the hostess bussing tables; you see bosses answering phone calls at the reception desk; or you see a senior manager covering a front-line shift so that the junior manager can have a meeting with her staff.
This kind of discretionary effort is all around us. We see the stories told next to five-star ratings in social media. Some people are just wired to go the extra mile for their customers as well as their colleagues. What is far less common is seeing this kind of effort happening consistently across an entire organization.
In the most engaged workplaces, everywhere you look, you see people going the extra mile for customers, patients, or supported individuals and – most importantly – for their teammates.
As I travel Canada meeting with agencies/customers I see the stark differences between engaged workplaces, where people seem to respect and help one another, and those where they do not. I once did two engagement workshops in the same day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. In the morning, senior managers openly argued with one another in front of the whole staff, people rolled their eyes when co-workers spoke, etc. In the afternoon, it was the direct opposite; respect, shared laughter and actual tears when people spoke of their appreciation of one another and the support they receive from their teammates daily.
One of the keys to creating this kind of an engaged culture is fostering an environment where people feel that their opinion truly matters. This means that everyone on the team thinks that their management and co-workers respect them and value their opinions. The result of this is that everyone treats each other with respect, despite differences in pay grade, educational background, and position in the organization. It’s an ideal scenario, and unfortunately rare.
A few ways to help move the needle in this area:
Promote understanding among your staff about the challenges they face. Encourage open dialogue and set aside time where people can explain their challenges to one another. During one such discussion at IBEX, the customer support team explained how hard it was on them, on a very busy support day, when management requested meetings or when IT staff wanted their input on system changes. They said they felt compelled to provide their input, but were also eager to help the customers they knew were waiting. From that came our red flag system, where the support teams literally put up a red flag in their area when they are experiencing a heavy load. Everyone at IBEX knows this is not the time to ask a question or request an impromptu meeting.
Regularly ask your staff how they think things are going and act on their feedback. Asking questions is easy; acting on the answers is hard. If you are not prepared to take on these discussions with an open mind, do not even start them! Done well, this practice is at the heart of creating an engaged culture. We have had the good fortune of being exposed to some great ideas that we have chosen to adopt. For example, we coach all of our employees to be an open minded listener, and to be willing to change course. Everyone should know that their feedback will be listened to and met by either an encouragement of action, or a thorough explanation about the decision. Whether the suggestion is accepted or not, it’s important to always listen, consider the feedback carefully, and express gratitude.
When someone takes a leap, and expresses their opinion, they are saying that they care. We need to encourage and support that any way we can.